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Base line
To my ears, Octave's V80 exudes more valve virtues than transistor strengths if we must talk in clichés. Airiness? Check. Speed paired with microdynamic finesse? Check. Body/bloom? Check. Creation of a large stage? Yes but 'creation' isn't entirely accurate. Expanded tonal palette? Er, that depends on what you mean. Dang, now I do have to hit the cliché brake and get specific. Let's start with tone and as such, deliberately above about 80-100Hz. More than once I've been told that the Octave sound is on the cool side. Sorry, I don't hear that with either the V80 or the HP300 preamp which likewise is in residence. But then cool is relative. If you arrive from subtropical bass climates, you'll probably look for a light coat. That's the thing with sonic climates. There's spring, summer, fall and winter, no permanent 35°C all year 'round. The advantage of a neutral balance -- which pertains to the V80 -- is the greatest variety of sonic possibilities. This also affects the core tempo of the presentation. Music gets more mobile and agile, less overshadowed by "warmth fog".

Truth be told, I can't detect any area in the frequency domain which is either emphasized or neglected. Hence neutral seems applicable overall. Granted, there is a small dose of fun in the presence region but it's modest, having music take a half step forward whenever I turn on Octave's V80, with female voices perhaps a complete step but never blatant. You quickly get conditioned, such that when I switched to the Octave HP300 / SAC il piccolo combo, I thought "too bad, now it plays further back again"; for five minutes mind you since both presentations were excellent, not one better than the other. The V80 turns you on a tad more, the combo presents the large scale behind it very nonchalantly. Scanning my notes, I found few comments on tonality which leads me to conclude that aspect in a hurry. That's not being lazy but a simple acknowledgement that neutral but differentiated captures things sufficiently. Yet one word did quite dominate my notes. Bass. With good reason.

In conjunction with a "for tubes" leaner foundation (i.e. neutral), one deals here not with a passable-sounding surrogate but true bass and low bass - black, on the move, coiled, the real McCoy! My cavalier private notions on tube charms are dandy but I need real crunch had their plug pulled. Prior, the famed lone isle to which you can only bring one amplifier always had me insist on transistors because I'd also bring with me albums by P.J.Harvey, Under Byen, Massive Attack, The Kills, Tuxedomoon and Leftfield. And the Chemical Brothers. And a few Nik Bärtsch. But no audiophile pan flute crap. Hence my island list always sported solid-state exclusively. Until now.

As already mentioned, I had fun pegging Octave's V80 against the pre/power team of Octave's HP300 and SAC's il piccolo monos. Said combo clocks in at 9000 euros, i.e. above the V80. Why that particular combo was simply due to me knowing it well and the fact that SAC's monos reach so stoically dry into the nether regions as to a/ be a total blast and b/ possibly only apply too much control (which I'd call nonsense but there it is). But mostly, I performed this comparison because essentially, it should have been an apples/pear affair. Weirdly, I concluded that it would be simply a matter of taste and music which bass performance one would prefer.

It was clear that with the lowest-most and particularly extended sustained tones (evil electronically generated drones or extended organ pipes if you prefer), the SAC monos had the noticeably upper hand to fire well-structured salvos into the room. Way down low, Octave's V80 went softer. More surprising was that it even reached that low. But as soon as 'normal' bass entered the menu -- e-bass, upright, piano's left end and you wouldn't believe how low harps reach -- it became apparent how the Octave simply invoked more corporeal sexiness while remaining agile and low fat. It's possible that the piccolo monos combo was ultimately more 'correct' but without a doubt it also was flatter. And this not in matter of stage depth (they were arguably somewhat deeper even) but flatter relative to the plasticity of individual instruments and voices. That quality Octave's integrated handled with more conviction - including the bass. Call it "elegant, physical and mobile". Plus, "damn dry for a valve" though not bleached-bone dry. If this suggests I thought the V80's bass absolutely superb, you wouldn't be wrong.

I'm generally convinced that in matters of body -- across the entire spectrum -- Octave's V80 holds a special ace. A songstress not only has mouth but head and, depending on register, a more or less expansive chest. Also the hi-hat attack turns into a well-shaped "ping" before it goes "tsch". Granted, there are valved machines which generate even more body. Mix great femmy vocals, great recordings and a great 300B amp and you might feel touched yet deeper. The Octave amp relies on more realistic proportions than maximal bloom or air. More vital is that the V80 is a general-purpose machine, sonically as well as what speakers it can drive. You needn't have high-eff wonders since even known watt guzzlers run like a charm. It neither takes pretty girl and way in the corner it occasionally plings music. That works too but so does broad-scale Beethoven or Big-Beat chicanery. Don't try that with a SET amp if you don't want smoke signals. The Octave though handles it with aplomb and then adds valve charms like swing, airiness, flow and body.

Perhaps this is the appropriate nutshell: The Octave V80's baseline criteria are stability of the musical presentation (spatially and tonally by being highly differentiated rather than mixed up), neutrality and realism. Only subsequently is any valve-associated flair condoned. In certain ways, this stands the tube archetype on its head. It also reveals the amp's weakness or better put, its concept which parks it somewhat between two chairs. Fiends of transistor muscle amps will find it too soft, devotees of special tube vices aka warmth and mega spaciousness might call it too sober. You can't serve everyone. The flip side is, many will be pleasantly surprised. In the end, one should simply discard silly parts worship and associated preconceptions and listen to music. This amp does put many clichés on trial.

Fun, games & upgrades
Stock power pentodes are 4 x 6550s or KT88s. Since everyone can drive stock, I kicked off with the alternate EL34 set and leashed up the €5,000/pr compact
Volent Paragons which thrive on juice and a firm hand and off we went. In theory. In practice, I was somewhat disappointed because I had expected more from an amp in the Octave's price class. The fine Pop/Soul number "I Guess It Will Be The Cultured Pearl" for example had verve and flow and the trademark guitar swirls left and right but I preferred the Octave/SAC pre/power combo plainly because the fat-whipping bass line exuded more energy. After a pentode swap and quarter-hour warm-up, my eyebrows raised Nicholson style however. There was significantly more snap in the cellar, all silky, snarling and pressuring. Juicy yet not fat. Yum. Now I preferred the bass on this song with the integrated while the combo felt comparably dry and uninspired.

But not just the bass had more energy and decisiveness with the KT88s. That phenomenon simply was most apparent down low. Spatial sorting improved and stage depth grew, the latter less obvious with studio pop but on Zappa's Yellow Shark swan song, dramatically better. These effects got duplicated over various speakers, i.e. the general tendency stayed constant. Which doesn't mean that an EL34-fitted Octave V80 couldn't find the perfect speaker mate; I simply had none on hand. But I did have two drivers, a detour I'll spare you since three hours later, I ended where I began. The valve-rolling routine with the Octave V80 isn't much fun. The stock tubes are simple too well chosen.

The 'capacity up' game however was mighty fun, so much so in fact that it'll bother you big if you haven't a spare 2,350 bills on hand to add the Super Black Box which, darn, does the promised job. Hofmann of course isn't the only one to champion high-quality capacitive bootstrapping. Naim's Flat/Hi/Super-Cap upgrades (in their case with added transformers) point in a similar direction. The sonic gains? The soundstage grows in scale, its outer corners are better lit, there's more pressure, attack and damping in the cellar (not "more" bass but more transient intensity, articulation and stability) and, simply put, more overall suavity. These differences increase as speaker loads worsen but even on easy digesters, this is anything but an exercise in millimeter advances. So my advice is simply to forbid any dealer demo with the Super Black Box if 7000 euros constitute your absolute pain threshold.

Best of both worlds might ring hollow from overuse but sonically, Octave's biggest integrated certainly points that way. And yet it is a pure valve machine, not a hybrid. Imperturbability and stability of the presentation are clear strengths one doesn't always associated with glowing glass. Nor the fully developed fleshy bass. On the other hand, virtues like air, PRaT, body and fine detail aren't shortchanged nor advanced to specialty disciplines fully maxed out but acting more as garnish which a good chef sprinkles to round out a fetching recipe. So what about that presumed tube warmth? Better look elsewhere. Polarized and dogmatic amp siders might miss the whole point here but to my mind, that exactly confirms Herr Hofmann's concept as a very craftily realized sonic hybrid.

Octave's V80 is characterized by ...
  • 'for tubes' unbelievably well defined, differentiated and extended bass which, due to juiciness and body, turns many transistors into dry food.
  • a tonal balance set to zero and hence cooler than other valves. I find timbre differentiation well above the norm and ditto for speed and agility.
  • a generally neutral progression from the midrange through the treble with just a bit of extra energy in the presence region. In lit-up or even hard systems, the V80 won't act as antidote whatsoever.
  • a realistically broad and deep soundstage on which individual actors are cleanly elucidated, i.e. instruments and voices are embodied and surrounded by air for a very believable rendition.
  • an exceptionally dynamic behavior particularly fascinating in the micro range of the midband. One remains connected to the music.
  • a high degree of PRaT. The V80 tracks all music without hesitation.

Product: Tube integrated
• Dimensions and weight: 451 x 150 x 415mm (WxHxD) / 23 kg
• Finish: Silver or black
• Output power: 2 x 75 watt RMS
• Other: multi-channel compatible/ switched pre-out / pre/power link / headphone socket / automated sleep mode/ integrated bias adjustments for power pentodes / soft-start system
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